Monday, 7 April 2008

Being Self-Reliant

Today I am taking a feather from my friend GTM's cap in her blog:
and posting about self-reliance and what it means to me personally, which is something she wrote very eloquently about over the weekend.

I have been pondering the meaning of self-reliance to me. It is completely different to self-sufficiency, which means supplying all your needs by keeping livestock and growing all your fruit and vegetable produce. That is incredibly hard work and takes every daylight hour and every inch of ground you own (unless you have a complete farm and an extended family).

The self-reliance we practice here is based upon not buying anything new unless we have no option. Mainly electrical goods such as a television or a fridge or cooker would come under this heading. Those are things we can't make ourselves. Virtually every stick of furniture in this house has come from an auction. The quality of old furniture is FAR superior to the trash you can buy in the shops, and it is solid wood - pine, mahogany or oak - not the junk that MFI pedal. Some pieces we "rescue" have needed restoration - woodwork is my husband's hobby and in the past he has turned finials, chair legs, handles etc from locally-sourced wood. Blackthorn, when not too seasoned (it ends up rock-hard!) turns beautifully, as does Rhododendron and Laburnum and Apple and the chair-legs he turned from branches of Yew are absolutely beautiful, with theirnatural variants of colouration. Our kitchen table (hand made) is graced with a pair of apple-wood candlesticks which he made. Some pieces he has made from scratch, including the Medieval-style trestle table in the bottom kitchen. Some pieces look NOTHING like they did when they arrived, for instance, the bookcase in the sitting room was once a wardrobe! Until my husband got busy with his jig-saw and reshaped the sides.

Years ago, when our children were small and I was desperate to get out of the house for some "me-time" I took Upholstery classes. I can still remember some of what I learned, and have a book which I use when I am restoring a chair (book in one hand, tools in the other!), though I don't do big armchairs any more. I have a couple of chairs which are "projects" and which I should get started on. And here's one I did earlier . . .

I make all my own jam, chutney, jellies and turn surpluses into wine. We have a reasonable vegetable plot and various gluts - apples, courgettes and runner beans can always be relied upon in this department. I am a fruit-forager, and pick blackberries, sloes, elderberries and crab apples to turn into edible/drinkable things - often presents.

I bake all my own cakes, regularly make bread, always make my own pizza bases (I don't do "crisp and thin"!). I can always remember a woman who I was at pre-natal classes with, and who said (and believed it) - "Oh, I could NEVER make a cake" - as if was as difficult as splitting the atom! I despair when I visit the Supermarket and see pre-sliced mushrooms or beans, ready-to-cook roasted potatoes or even apples pre-sliced and ready to eat! Or I hear about people who ignore the fruit growing in their own garden (presumably too lazy to pick it) and go and buy apples or pears from the Supermarket.

Most meals are cooked from scratch, and a cold winter's day absolutely screams for a pan of home-made soup bubbling on the hob, better still with home-made bread to accompany it, and even sometimes, home-made butter too.

I make all my own curtains - it's far cheaper and even I can sew straight lines and do invisible hemming - enjoy lap-quilting, making hexagon quilts or cushion covers for my offsprings' beds, and whilst my dress-making skills are limited, I've recently made my eldest daughter a waistcoat which turned out quite well (as long as you don't examine it too closely!) Believe it or not, the beautiful curtains below cost something like 50p or a pound, being offcuts in a bargain store in Brecon.

This is my idea of being self-reliant. My husband and I between us can cope with most jobs, and the satisfaction we get from doing so is amazing and so rewarding. You would never believe the mahogany chest of drawers in our bedroom, gleaming flame mahogany, was once a dry grey shadow of itself in a Devon barn. The owner was going to burn it, but we returned from this house-viewing with a bonus chest of drawers . . .

In the past (which, let's face it, is where my mind resides most of the time!) people HAD to be self-reliant. Nothing was wasted. There was no green lifestyle option - that was the way you lived. Researching an essay once, about utilising local resources in the Medieval fulling mills of Wales, I was amazed at how EVERYTHING was sourced locally, and EVERTHING was used. Sheep utilised even the steepest of Welsh hillsides and the wealth of the Nation was built upon their fleeces. The pandys, the little mills where the wool was processed, were built where they were to utilise the power of the water coming swiftly down the streams and rivers. Local dyeplants such as Lady's Bedstraw, Agrimony, Bog Myrtle, Dyer's Greenweed and Green Alkanet provided a variety of colours dependent on the mordant used and many of them also had medicinal uses too. The people wore clogs on their feet for working in the damp and wet. These were made of Alder, a "waterproof" tree which grows in the Alder carr woodlands which abound in much of Wales. Clog makers would work their way around the countryside even as late as between the Wars, but in Medieval times, there was a more permanent arrangement, and the dye vats where the wool was coloured, were fuelled by the offcuts and chippings of the clog making industry.

I am fortunate in that I decided to be a stay at home mum, and have had the time to learn all these skills, although believe me, in our early years here, they were absolute NECESSITY, as money was extremely tight. Now all this is second nature and I can't imagine living any other way. How self reliant are you?


Pixiedust said...

That was a really good read. We are trying to be more self reliant at home, but it is a slow process but it all helps and we will get better. I try to make most of our own cakes and jams etc. I never buy ready meals and we don't go out to buy all the latest gadgets, I wouldn't know one end of an IPod to the other.

MammyT said...

An ongoing dilemma with me is self-reliance, just how far to go? My life has been anything but stable, and I have been hugely self-reliant at some times and hardly at all at others. That was dependent on where we were and for how long. I've lived everywhere from the Alaskan bush to the remote hills of Kentucky, with several big cities thrown in. I'd much rather be rural and rely on my own wits and resources than be dependent on the public systems in place. They could go in a blink!
God bless you, Jennie. You are an inspiration.

Bovey Belle said...

I've lived on my wits all my life I think - certainly since moving here. Gosh, when I think of the bitterly cold winter mornings when I went out selling collectables to keep the wolf from the door, getting up at 4.30 a.m. when all sane people were in bed! Making most of the children's Christmas pressies one year too - and I still make lots of presents for other little ones in the family, my elderly aunts etc. Old habits die hard.

I hate to think how most people would cope if there WAS a big crash - though I suspect it would be a case of male with largest gun survives . . .